Columnist Shilo Kino looks up at Matariki and – now – sees her whakapapa, her ancestors and their stories.

I stand on Takaparawha and welcome in the new year  with my classmates from Takiura, all of us studying Te reo Māori full immersion. The whenua we stand on is known to many as Bastion Point, where a 506-day occupation took place in protecting the whenua of  Ngāti Whātua. It only happened 40 years ago and yet it is a time in history that has become a symbol of resistance for my generation and will be for many generations to come. 

There is something haunting about speaking my wawata or my wishes to Matariki and the star Hiwa-i-te-rangi at the very same place where hundreds of our people were handcuffed in a struggle to make their wishes come true- to protect the land, to gain sovereignty. I thought deeply about this as I ground my feet into a whenua that was almost taken, that could have easily looked like something different today  if it wasn’t for the fight that ensured it stayed in the hands of Ngāti Whātua. Although I don’t whakapapa back to Ngāti Whātua, we share the same dream. And we share the same mamae.

A  year ago I had no idea what Matariki really was. A year ago I also couldn’t speak Te reo Māori. A lot can change in a year. Now I can speak reo. And now when I look at the sky I no longer see just stars. I see whakapapa. I see tīpuna. I see stories.  

We said a mihi to Tupu-ā-nuku, Tupu-ā-rangi, Waitī, Waitā, Waipunā-ā-rangi, Ururangi, Hiwa-i-te-rangi, and Pōhutukawa, all of us with a real understanding of who each star is. It is how we know to send our wishes to Hiwa-i-te-rangi, because our tīpuna used to do the same.  “Hiwa” means “vigorous growth”. 

It is not lost on me the significance of gathering with my classmates on the morning of the new year, each of us in our own fight to get our reo back. But our dream of speaking our language, that should have been our birthright, hasn’t come without a struggle. I am always told this is just the reality we live in, that it’s just something we have to do, learn our language, work hard, most of us have to do it. It is what it is. But just because it is the reality for most of us, it doesn’t make it okay. 

Why do I have to give up a year’s salary to learn my language that was taken from my whānau? Why do I have to go through an internal struggle every day to learn the reo? Someone make it make sense. And then the other part of me thinks I should just be grateful that I get to do te reo Māori full time, and although I am grateful, it still doesn’t take away the mamae. 

When we first started learning about  the kaupapa of Matariki six weeks ago, I didn’t think it would be another exercise in decolonising but I was wrong. Everything  in Te reo Māori is hōhonu – deep – because there is life force in everything we learn. He mauri tō ngā mea kātoa. 

It’s not possible to learn Te reo Māori and not have a spiritual experience.  Every word we learn has whakapapa, that way we will never forget it. Just like every one of us has whakapapa, and if we learn it, we will never forget who we are. 

Each of us had to stand and speak for 15 minutes about  Matariki, write a children’s book and also compose a waiata.  Matariki encompasses every element of te ao Māori – we had to choose a specific part of Matariki to talk about. There’s the Maramataka – the phases of the moon, Papatūānuku –  the earth, the celebration of Matariki, Te Taiao –  the outdoors –  just to name a few.  

The question isn’t what to talk about, but where do we start? And where do we get the information from? We couldn’t just Uncle Google it. There is so much to learn and yet limited access to the knowledge of our history because colonisation left only a few individuals with details of Māori astrology.

I saw a copy of Doctor Rangi Matamua’s book Matariki – the star of the new year – in the hands of almost every student at Takiura. Without Rangi Matamua’s knowledge and determination in preserving the knowledge he gained from his tīpuna, many of us would not know anything about Matariki.  It became a bible for us at Takiura – we ate up the words of Doctor Matamua. It was like kai to us. We were all nourished and well fed. 

However, every iwi has different beliefs when it comes to the new year.  Rangi Matamua is a descendant of Tuhoe.  I am a descendant of Ngāpuhi and Ngāti Maniapoto.  I  wanted to know about my tīpuna. What did they believe in? What were their hopes and dreams when they navigated the stars? What did they hope for me when they stood on my whenua, on my Marae atea and welcomed in the new year?

I began to dig out taonga – treasure – in my search for the beliefs of my tīpuna. I found out my tīpuna didn’t even believe Matariki was the star of the new year. In Northland, Puanga is the first star,  the older brother of Matariki. But Puanga wasn’t just a star. He was a God. He had real emotions just like us. Puanga was stubborn, determined to always be the star of the new year before Matariki.

I also found out my tipuna, Hari Hongi, was a tohunga kokorangi, an expert in astrology. He believed when we died, our spirits departed to Puanga. 

Puanga became real to me. A lost past, lost history, lost matauranga – it was more than just stories. I was getting to know my tīpuna and what they believed in. And I was barely scratching the surface. There is more taonga to find and I’m hungry for more. 

When Labour first announced Matariki was going to be a public holiday, I thought there are better ways to empower Māori. I now have a clearer understanding of why this is important. It is another form of decolonising, another part of our culture we are taking  back. 

Be careful not to colonise Matariki. I read somewhere and I thought how sad it is that when we are finally getting something back, when Matariki is finally becoming mainstream, we still have to be careful it is not colonised – again.

How many people know and understand the whakapapa and significance of Matariki? How many Māori know specifically what their tīpuna believed and how they welcomed the new year?

Six months at Takiura and I have gained more than I could ever imagined – and I’m not talking about the reo. 

Ngākau titikaha means to be confident. Ngākau is heart, titi means to pierce and kaha means strength. Every time I speak reo I feel my heart is pierced with power and strength. 

From my very first whakapuaki where my voice shook with nerves from speaking of my mountain and river  to my second whakapuaki, where my legs wobbled when I spoke about my Marae. 

Learning about Matariki- about Puanga- has brought me closer to my tīpuna and even more aware of my whakapapa and who I am. It has given me time to reflect on the hopes and dreams of my tīpuna.  When I spoke about Puanga, it was the first time this year I could speak ngākau titikaha- confidently and from my heart.

One day we will become stars in the sky and our descendants will stand on our whenua, feet planted in Papatūānuku and point up to us in the night sky. 

One day we will become tīpuna. 

He aha ngā korero e pirangi ana koe kia kōrerotia ai e ō uri, ō mokopuna rānei mōu? 

What do you want your descendants or your mokopuna to say about you?

‘Me mātou ki te whetu, i mua i te kokiri o te haere.’

‘Before you set forth on a journey, be sure you know the stars.’

Thank you to Sam.T. Rerekura and his book Puanga, Star of the Māori New Year for gifting me back the knowledge of what my tīpuna believed in. E mihi nui ana ki a koe. 

Shilo Kino (Ngāpuhi, Waikato- Tainui) is a reporter and writer. She released her debut novel The Pōrangi Boy last November and is undertaking a year-long full immersion journey at Te Wānanga Takiura....

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